Craft Beer Chemistry

Craft Beer Chemistry


Are you overwhelmed by the selection in the beer aisle? Bacon-flavored stout? A quadruple IPA with absurdly high alcohol content? Pistachio cream ale? Craft brews are boldly going where
no beer has gone before! and all those different tastes come down to chemistry. If you drink responsibly this St. Patty’s day, you might even remember some
of these facts to impress your friends. [Reactions intro] Every beer, from the cheapest swill to the
wildest craft brew is made the same way: heat a grain in water until enzymes break down the starches into a sugar solution called a wort. Throw in some hops then add some yeast to turn your wort into a deliciously carbonated alcoholic beverage. Before that grain takes a bath, though, it gets malted. Now this isn’t your 50’s-style diner malt, either. Malting is the process of toasting the
grain to create flavor compounds. You can buy all kinds of malt, depending
on what kind of beer you want to make. Also important is temperature. When you dunk those malted grains into
that water, the temperature you heat them to can change up the taste of your beer. Certain enzymes that break down the
starches work with low heat, others only get activated at higher temperatures. Different enzymes, different taste. Then hops do the rest of the heavy lifting. You IPA lovers out there can thank two types
of compounds called alpha and beta acids for your favorite brew’s flavor. The main alpha acid is called humulone. Humulone has a soft bitter flavor that really makes a beer taste “hoppy”. Beta acids take longer to
contribute their flavor to a beer, so they play a more prominent role in aged brews. It’s not just bitter ales like IPAs that get hops. Even mild-mannered lagers need them. But bitterness is just one of the results of the chemical reactions that happen when hops meet wort. Essential oils are hops’ other crucial contribution. They add more complex flavors
than the acid’s bitterness. There are 22 different essential oils known to give aroma or flavor to beer. On to yeast. Yeast ferments beer by eating up the sugars and turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. So in a bottle or can, that carbon dioxide gives beer bubbles and a little bit of bite. Some beers, like stouts, have a creamier, thicker taste. To get that taste right out of the tap, brewers and bar owners replace most of that carbon dioxide with nitrogen gas. Nitro beer is one of the newest frontiers in craft brewing. Nitrogen gas is much less soluble
in water than carbon dioxide. That means fewer overall bubbles in your beer, contributing to that creamy drinkability. Real quick, the green beer that pops up this time of year also has its roots in chemistry – Sadly it’s not leprechaun magic, but Di-molecules are extracted from plants or synthesized in a lab. Don’t forget, you don’t have to go to a bar to try a bunch of different beers. You can brew your own at home! Grab a homebrew kit and start experimenting. So you know what goes best with beer? Pizza. Check out our video on the chemistry of pizza, and for more booze facts, check
out the chemistry of champagne. Be sure to subscribe too for
a weekly dose of chemistry fun.

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9 Replies to “Craft Beer Chemistry”

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  2. Hops are unnecessary for beer production. Hops were once used for stabilizing the chemical reactions that may occur and thus preserving a beer. I.P.A.or India Pale Ale is known for being quite "hoppy". The hops were added as a way to preserve the beer as it was transported from Great Britain to India, as beer was rationed to soldiers in the British military in the 1800's and early 1900's. Modern refrigeration is more than capable of preserving beers for transport. Guits (Grut) and Sahti beers are examples of styles that do not use hops in the production.

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